Rude Chapbooks 12.20.10 | Mr. Potter Goes All George Bailey

Yes, ’tis the season and all that, but this is just sugarplum…er, plumb ridiculous. Our otherwise dependable funnybook Grinch praises all five titles in this week’s column, including the debuts of Proof: Endangered, Next Men, and Conan: Road of Kings. With apologies to Santa, WTF? Exactly how much Jim Beam was in that eggnog at the PLAYBACK:stl holiday party?



Plucked, on a whim, from its station at the local comics shop, Avengers Academy #7 comes as a splendid surprise. In the past six years, directly and otherwise, the overweening egotism and underwhelming talent of Brian Michael Bendis have tainted the Avengers “brand” (to use a signally despicable buzzword). This new Marvel title, however, not only exhibits none of Bendis’ boorishness and predictability, but also displays considerable style and charm. Past a cover that neatly pays homage to Avengers #63 from 1969, penciller Mike McKone, with inkers Dave Meikis and Scott Hanna, nicely visualizes the tale, which spotlights academy founder and instructor Dr. Henry Pym, long a personal favorite but also (alas) a perennial Avengers whipping boy/stalking-horse. Christos Gage’s script, meanwhile, constitutes a small revelation, adroitly shoehorning an unlikely amount of information into his story without undermining its characterization or good ol’-fashioned superhero action, while suggesting a fairly idiosyncratic ear for dialogue. (“Oh, snap,” mesomorphic academician Mettle remarks as tenured baddy Absorbing Man escapes imprisonment—love it!) Definitely add this one to the pull-and-hold list.
Four decades have passed since he and the artist today known as Barry Windsor-Smith introduced Robert E. Howard’s most acclaimed character to comics, and now writer Roy Thomas revisits that swords-and-sorcery icon in Dark Horse’s Conan: Road of Kings #1. He does so with élan. Perhaps understandably for someone whose career started under Stan Lee, Thomas has previously overwritten at times, at times painfully so. From the early ’80s, for instance, his All-Star Squadron read like a car with square wheels. Happily, here he’s operating near or at the top of his game, obviously relishing his return to Howard’s leonine barbarian in an instant continuation of Conan the Cimmerian, concluded three weeks ago; Thomas places balloons and captions with consummate skill and otherwise trusts penciller Mike Hawthorne and inker John Lucas to advance the narrative, which they do. “The Song of Red Sonja” redux? Well, no. With Conan the Barbarian #24, though, Thomas made comics history alongside Windsor-Smith (then just “Smith”). Here’s he’s making only a memorable mainstream comic—but by Crom, that will suffice.
Rock ’n’ roll! With Next Men #1—whose logo and indicia, it bears noting, both prefix that title with its creator’s name in the possessive—writer/artist John Byrne at last resurrects the work that may constitute his personal best, topping even an Uncanny X-Men run with Chris Claremont that galvanized the mainstream, a subsequent run on Fantastic Four that rivaled the grandeur of the Stan Lee–Jack Kirby original, and a thoughtful and heartfelt “reboot” of the Superman mythos that made the evening news long before the evening news recognized comics as anything beyond a freakazoid investment. Byrne effectively launched this quicksilver beauty almost two decades back in a Dark Horse anthology, after which Next Men ran as a sweetly indiscreet discrete title for fewer than three dozen issues. Since then, he’s waffled about reviving the superpowered title quintet, not unreasonably citing industry and audience considerations. Thankfully, over the past two years, IDW Publishing has compiled the original run and persuaded him to again heft the best Strat he’s ever owned. Get set to boogie!
As high-concept concepts go, the work of writer Alex Grecian and artist Riley Rossmo occupies a comics exosphere, the topmost layer of a planet before the void of space. More specifically, that work poses the gloriously gonzo question “What if the X-Files recruited Bigfoot?” Image’s Proof: Endangered #1 continues their delightful answer, which has already filled five slim trade paperbacks. Proof slyly truncates the surname of series hero John Prufrock, a.k.a. Gulliver, a.k.a. Bigfoot and the Sasquatch (of which the last two nouns may not, properly, be proper), and the premiere of Proof: Endangered gleefully deepens manifold mysteries involving Grecian and Rossma’s hirsute 850-pound protagonist (formerly, by the way, a ward of Thomas Jefferson), as well as his friends and colleagues at the cryptozoological Washington State preserve called the Lodge and what appears to be his erstwhile foster brother Gilgamesh, a.k.a. the Yeti. This new debut, delectably, opens with a sushi-ya bloodbath and closes with at least one grisly impersonation. For their totemic pop power, it and its collected predecessors enjoy this column’s highest recommendation.
DC’s triune First Wave quasi-line has problems, as last week’s “Rude Chapbooks” submitted; the eponymous miniseries lacks coherence, more specifically, and Doc Savage just stinks on ice. Luckily for the third title, redemption has a name: Moritat. As The Spirit #9 demonstrates, that artist is partnering credibly with writer David Hine to advance the adventures of Will Eisner’s roguish nonesuch. To be sure, his visuals recall less Eisner than Milo Manara or Moebius in an apprentice take, and Moritat sometimes has (shall we say) major “fedora issues.” That criticism oughtn’t be taken for a calumny, though. At any given time, after all, seemingly 99 percent of contemporary comics artists depict the fedora with only laughable accuracy, and Manara and Moebius, of course, number among the medium’s extant geniuses. Now, whether The Spirit survives much longer remains doubtful; only Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in tandem have ever succeeded at approximating Eisner’s brilliance on the character, and the whole First Wave conceit already feels like a forgotten ripple in comics history. But Moritat? Moritat bears watching. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Avengers Academy #7, courtesy of PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Conan: Road of Kings #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Next Men #1 and here for Proof: Endangered #1, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of The Spirit #9, courtesy of DC Comics.


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